1. Chicago Bulls vs 8. Indianapolis Pacers
The Bulls were predicted to be a good team, but nobody expected them to be the #1 ranked team heading into the playoffs. While Chicago is looking to make a deep run into the playoffs, the Pacers seem happy to be in the playoffs. However, the Pacers do have some players and can make this series interesting. The advantage the Pacers seem to have is size. Granger is big for a small forward and can bully other players in the paint. Hibbert is also one of the few remaining true 7 ft centers in the NBA. Outside of having the NBA MVP on their roster, the Bulls also have a solid set of complimentary players. Boozer is an athletic PF who should have no troubles with Hansbrough. Noah is a solid 10 & 1o player who will get looks off of pick and rolls. Deng is also a solid SF who plays well on defense and can shoot from deep. For the Pacers, they need to make sure they get out to early leads and attack the Bulls. Chicago on the other hand needs to use their superior talent and athleticism to get by the Pacers. The Bulls might lose one our two, but in the end should win this series.
Luol Deng, Bulls: Rose is going to get the hole and has Boozer down low to feed the rock, but a third player needs to step up. Deng needs to knock down perimeter shots when fed the ball and lock down Danny Granger.
Roy Hibbert, Pacers: I wanted to say Collison, but Hibbert needs to dominate in the paint and prove that he can be a force in the middle. He will need to eliminate his inconsistencies and lock down Noah.
Bulls in 5
2. Miami Heat vs 7. Philadelphia 76ers
As sad as this is, I don’t think Philadelphia competes with the Heat in the least bit this series. Whenever you think of first round blowouts, this is what I have in mind. The Sixers have some solid players, but when compared to the Heat they only true advantage they have is at PG. Holliday is starting to come into his own while Bibby and Chalmers are decent at best. However, Miami has three superstars which will give Philly fits. Everyone knows LeBron James and what he brings to the table. I honestly don’t see a single player on the other team who will be able to stop him. It might get interesting if the put Igudola on him, it might get interesting, but that still leaves Dwayne Wade going against someone like Jodie Meeks. The biggest advantage I see for the Heat is down low. Elton Brand has had a nice season, but I think Bosh and his size will give the shorter Brand problems. Overall, this should be a relatively boring series that ESPN will give too much coverage to because of the names on the Heat.
Chris Bosh, Heat: The “third” wheel needs to step up in a big way, most likely against fellow big Elton Brand. If he plays the way that everyone knows he is capable of playing, than this series should be over fairly quick. If he doesn’t, perhaps Philly can sneak a game (or two?) from the Heat.
Jrue Holliday, 76ers: When this kid makes plays, the 76ers seem to win. That might not necessarily hold true in this series; however, if he does play well, then that will at least give them a chance…right?
Heat in 4
3. Boston Celtics vs 6. New York Knicks
I’ll be dead honest; I have a strong aversion towards the Celtics. I’m sure it’s how everyone else feels about the Spurs; they want them to lose, but they keep winning despite age. It also doesn’t help they always seem to take series down to the 7th game every single time. The Knicks are interesting to me as they are with everyone else. They made a blockbuster trade to get Carmelo, and have settled into mediocrity. A lot of this has to do with their offense. They seem to settle early and take too many three pointers. They need to figure out how to work together on both ends of the court and start meshing as a team. The Celtics also made a mid-season trade giving up Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green. Since then, they haven’t been the same down low in the paint and have been mediocre as well. Both teams however only have one star down low so the fact that Boston has gotten smaller shouldn’t hurt them. As cliche as it is to reference a star player, Anthony needs to body up Paul Pierce and take him down low. He can dominate based on his size. I think the Knicks make it interesting, but the Celtics know what it takes.
Rajon Rondo, Celtics: It’s been a bit of a down year for Rondo, but he always seems to step up in the playoffs. This year is no different. He needs to take command of the Celtics and lead them through the series.
Chauncey Billups, Knicks: Billups was brought over from Denver along with Anthony and has played well. However, he’s 3-point percentage has slipped. Billups will get open looks so he needs to be ready for them.
Celtics in 7
4. Orlando Magic vs 5. Atlanta Hawks
The first thing I thought of when I saw this match up was Dwight Howard against Al Horford. Howard is arguably the most dominant center in the league while Horford is of all-star calibur and plays in similar fashion. Seeing these two go at it will be fun. For Orlando, it’s the same team as always with a few different players. They will shoot early and often from deep and I can’t blame them with Richardson, Reddick, and Turkolu. Of course, going down low to Dwight is a pretty nice option as well. Expect to see screens to set up those looks from deep. For Atlanta, I like Joe Johnson’s matchup against Richardson. Johnson can score in just about every way imaginable so I think he should be able to put up a high number of points. The key here will be experience. Orlando has been to the finals and constantly make deep runs in the playoffs. Atlanta on the other hand hasn’t seemed to be able to make a deep playoff run in forever. They may be matched up similarly, but Orlando knows what it takes to make it in the playoffs.
Hedu Turkolu, Magic: For some reason, Turk only plays well for Orlando. Based on what he’s done in the past, Hedu could make the difference and play the X-Factor as he has just a few years ago.
Josh Smith, Hawks: When Orlando traded away Lewis, they gave up some definite size as they had him at PF. Josh Smith is uber athletic and a force down low. If he can focus and stay in the paint, he can dominate.
Magic in 6